The executor announced Salaka’s crime and her punishment. Then he began flogging her with a switch made from the branch of a tree. Her high-pitched cries are contorted with pain. You can hear the slap of the whip. You can hear her labored breathing.
They hit her so hard and for so long that at one point she wasn’t sure if the veil had fallen off. She could feel the blood seeping through.
When it was over, they told her that if they ever saw her with a man again, they would kill her.
Her lover called as soon as she got home. The night she was caught, he ran away to Mali’s distant capital, becoming one of an estimated 385,000 people who have fled their homes from the north.
He said over and over: ‘‘I'm sorry.’’ He promised to marry her. But he has not yet returned. She still will not name him, fearing the Islamist extremists will be back.
Her face warms when she speaks of him and contracts when she describes her pain and humiliation. There isn’t a child in Timbuktu who doesn’t recognize her, she says. Even now she avoids the market, sending her sisters to buy the meat instead.
‘‘This was a tyrannical regime, which had no pity towards women,’’ she says. ‘‘I'm not the only one that went through this. I did this because I was in love.’’
Last week, Salaka was among the thousands of people who poured into the streets to cheer French soldiers as they liberated the city. She folded and put away her blue and red veils.
In recent days, she pulled out her lover’s gift of the violet bazin with the flame-patterned brocade from the bottom of a pile of clothes she was not allowed to wear under the city’s occupiers. She painted her lips a translucent fuschia. She went to the newly opened hairdresser.
The photo studio where she and her lover posed by the cardboard waterfall remains closed, so instead her brother snapped a picture of her.
If you look closely, you can see the marks left by the whip across her now-naked shoulders.
Salaka’s story was pieced together from interviews with her over three days. Salaka took AP journalists to the rendezvous house, the place where she was arrested, the ATM machine, her prison cell and the market. Her family, city officials and several witnesses confirmed the whipping, and a meat seller shared with the AP a sound recording that captures the sentencing and her screams. The account of the stoning in Aguelhok is from the city’s mayor.
Rukmini Callimachi can be reached at www.twitter.com/rcallimachi.